Toyota positions Lexus as its top electric vehicle brand

Toyota is starting a more concerted effort to develop electric vehicles and has chosen its luxury brand Lexus over Toyota’s flagship lineup for the revamp. The current president of Lexus International will also be promoted to CEO and president of all Toyota, effective April 1.

The implication is that Lexus’ new EV focus will guide Toyota’s strategy going forward. Current CEO Akio Toyoda will step down on April 1 amid criticism for his hesitation to convert Toyota’s lineup to full electric vehicles, as rivals have done. Instead, he promoted a hybrid-first approach, believing that vehicles like the Prius have an important short-term role to play in reducing carbon emissions.

That seems to have, well, given it the boot, and going forward Toyota will “accelerate” battery electric vehicle development, though it still plans to pursue multiple fuel types with a “multi-track” approach. “The energy situation varies around the world. We want to be in tune with customers… and offer a variety of options,” he says.

However, Lexus will follow an EV-only strategy, with plans for full electrification by 2035 (delayed five years from a 2021 commitment).(opens in a new window) do so by 2030). Lexus’ first all-electric vehicle is expected to launch later this year, the 2023 RZ. It starts around $60,000.

Pricing mirrors most other EVs on the market today, although there are several options under $40,000. Toyota already offers a battery electric vehicle, the Toyota bZ4X ($42,000), and has said it plans to launch five more EVs under the “bZ” (“beyond zero”) badge, TechCrunch reports.(opens in a new window).

Toyota BZ4X

The Toyota bZ4X electric vehicle, available now. (Credit: Toyota)

Although Toyota already offers an electric vehicle, while Lexus does not, the higher price of Lexus vehicles makes the brand an easier choice for electrification, due to the high cost of battery materials and a desire to compete with companies such as Tesla, that prioritizes expensive software and self-driving features over the mass-market appeal that Toyota prides itself on.

Toyota says it is accelerating development of its new Arene(opens in a new window) automotive software platform, led by CFO Kenta Kon. The platform will host new services related to electric vehicles, collaborations with dealerships and mobile applications. Kon will also oversee activities in Woven City.(opens in a new window), a 175-acre prototype city at the base of Mt. Fuji, which Toyota says has a higher priority than ever. Woven will serve as a playground for testing autonomous driving, hydrogen fuel and a full-scale model of a newly designed city.

Woven city rendering.

Woven City rendering. (Credit: Toyota)

“A swarm of different technologies is starting to radically change the way we inhabit and navigate our cities,” he says.(opens in a new window) Bjarke Ingels, founder and Danish creative director of the city. “Connected, autonomous, emission-free and shared mobility solutions will unleash a world of opportunities for new forms of urban living. We believe we have a unique opportunity to explore new forms of urbanity with Woven City, which can open new paths for others cities to explore.”

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As much as Toyota works to imagine a new future, it is keen to honor the company’s tradition. “Our new team’s theme is ‘heritage and evolution,'” reads this week’s Lexus EV ad. “We will implement a product-centric and region-centric management, valuing the philosophy of our company’s founding.”

Just one day after Toyota unveiled its new Focus EV with Lexus, Shoichiro Toyoda, who led the company as CEO from 1981 to 1992, has died.(opens in a new window) at age 97. Toyoda, father of current CEO Akio Toyoda, was known for expanding into North America and launching the Lexus brand, Automotive News reports(opens in a new window). As a generation passes, it’s a new chapter for Toyota that looks to honor its legacy with the new focus on Lexus.

But for most car buyers, the question is how Toyota will bring electric vehicles into the well-loved, lower-priced selection that is famous for being produced in greater quantities than any other automaker.

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